House & Home

Levittown Tries to Set Green Example

Posted February 13, 2008 4:50 p.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2008 9:26 p.m. EST

— This prototypical suburban community, known for mass-produced housing that went up for soldiers coming home from World War II, is again trying to standardize a way of life for its residents.

This time, they want everybody to go green.

Oil companies, light bulb manufacturers and other businesses are teaming up with nonprofits and the government to canvas all 17,000 homes in the community, trying to encourage residents to upgrade their boilers, change to energy-efficient lighting, use better insulation and even invest in solar heating.

Organizers say if this Long Island town - dubbed by some as America's first suburb - can reduce its carbon footprint, it could set a course for the nation. They are trying to package the campaign as a way homeowners can simultaneously save money and help the environment.

The project is the brainchild of Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, who says he's always been devoted to preservation of the environment but also knows about day-to-day struggles and distractions.

"It's very hard when you're busy paying taxes and your mortgage, and dropping your kids off at soccer practice or at school, or going to work, to think about the polar ice caps and the plight of the polar bears and the penguins," he said. "We need to make this part of regular people's lives."

On a cool evening in January, two representatives from the regional nonprofit group Citizens Campaign for the Environment went from house to house, knocking on doors, ringing doorbells and trying to inform people about their options.

"We're not selling anything," the two canvassers would announce at the beginning of their pitch, in an effort to get at least a few seconds of face time.

Often, the homeowners dismissed them, citing a range of excuses from being busy feeding the kids dinner to not speaking English. But a few times, the canvassers were met with a positive reception from an eager resident.

Not everybody has to get on board right away, the campaigners said. Once a few neighbors start making changes, the news about incentives and environmental awareness could spread through the community.

By replacing light bulbs, a resident can save up to $200 on their electric bill every year, according to the Green Levittown project. They say homeowners can save as much as $450 every year with new windows and insulation, or $600 a year with an up-to-date boiler.

For an incentive, the project's partners are offering homeowners gift cards, reduced interest rates on loans, discounted prices on home energy assessments.

The organizers are planning a big party for St. Patrick's Day, and the project will culminate on Earth Day, when they will hand out energy-efficient light bulbs for free and try to once again encourage homeowners to sign up to do their part.

The ultimate goal? To reduce the community's overall carbon footprint by 10 percent.